Leaving the light and the glory of Epiphany behind, a trip into the desert is far removed from a glamorous mountaintop chalet. We have been introduced to, we have met Jesus and we have been instructed to “listen to him.” What happens next is about the way, and the why, Jesus is going to go about his ministry: the ground rules for his ministry and mission are set. Jesus, the Son of God is not here to grab power for himself, or to show off how much he matters to God, or to work magic for the masses.
That’s not how it’s going to work. For the church to be the church resisting these temptations is crucial to her life.
Temptation is only temptation when it is possible. Jesus is facing an adversary who almost comes across as a “friend” who offers things that sound perfectly reasonable and good at first. It is like that seductive, “you know you want to.”
It is tempting for the church to want to wield its power in the face of the world, to dominate and control, to conquer and even destroy. So we speak in grand, militaristic terms, perhaps because this is the language the world understands. Again, it seems, this is our language and not Jesus’.
In these temptations of Jesus there are deep echoes of the first four commandments (see Exodus 20.1-11). They have to do with the identity and the place of God, the setting up of other images of God, how God’s name is to be used and, finally, with the fourth command of Sabbath rest, can we really put all our trust in God and rest in God’s rest?
Henry Thoreau, comments, “Generally speaking, a howling wilderness does not howl. It is the imagination of the traveller that does the howling.” It is only in these times of deep temptation will we hear the howling of our minds.
Lent is really a time for us to set our minds on other things. And our Basis of Union reminds us that we have been given the Holy Spirit in order that we might not lose our way.
Let us trust this gift from God. Grace and peace, James.